Survivor’s Totem Pole to symbolize resistance, persistence, and inclusion in Vancouver

Haida carver Skundaal.

Haida carver Skundaal.

By Matt Kieltyka, Metro Vancouver,

Like the Bear Mother at the base of a totem pole, a Vancouver artist hopes her latest community project will provide strength to the Downtown Eastside.  Skundaal, Bill Reid’s only female apprentice, and three apprentice carvers have been whittling away on a survivor’s pole dedicated to communities that have struggled for survival in Vancouver.

After the totem’s completion, it will be installed somewhere in the Downtown Eastside (the location has been kept secret) as a lasting symbol of inclusion between Aboriginals, Chinese Head Tax survivors, victims of Japanese internment during the Second World War, the homeless and those currently facing gentrification and other issues in the DTES.

For Skundaal, a Haida and Coast Salish artist and residential school survivor who lives in Vancouver, the project has taken on a life of its own since she was first introduced to the idea in December.

“Initially I wasn’t going to do anything because I thought my carving days were over, I carve in metal now,” she said, from the Sacred Circle Society’s studio space on West Cordova and Carrall Street.

“I didn’t know this was going to be the survivors’ pole, and then you hear about the head tax and internment and it took on a life of its own,” she said. “It just really knocked the wind out of my sails, it triggered something in me. Everybody iSurvivors totem poles down here for a reason. Whatever it is, I’m glad I ended up here because this is the greatest community around. It is so unconditional and the people here are very accepting. You don’t have to be a somebody.”

It’s become a true grassroots community project with the Portland Hotel Society donating studio space, the Four Host First Nations chiefs giving their blessing, and community leaders from all walks of life and politicians attending the launch of the society’s Kickstarter campaign last weekend.

Sacred Circle Society is hoping to raise $15,000 by Aug. 3 on its Kickstarter “Survivors Totem Pole” page to pay the artists, organize the community launch and totem raising in September.

As of Thursday afternoon, 42 backers had pledged more than $4,300.

A Survivor’s Totem Pole to symbolize resistance, persistence, and inclusion in Vancouver

by Melissa Fong, Georgia Straight,  Juyl 4, 2014

This year, most of us engaged in the typical Canada Day celebrations, which included parades, fireworks, and the live entertainment that was peppered across the city.

However, very little of this celebration took pause to recognize what those celebrations meant, not even one week after the City of Vancouver formally acknowledged that we inhabit unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

What does it mean to celebrate a nation-state that was formed through forceful appropriation? What does it mean to celebrate Canadian multiculturalism on colonized land?

While none of us have the answers, we can at least recognize that in The Year of Reconciliation, we have faced many discussions on how to build bridges with a marred past.

Recognition is the first step and now we must demand more. We must start practicing and enacting reconciliation.

One of the community-driven actions that has been actually enacting reconciliation was initiated by the Sacred Circle Society, a group of dedicated people engaged in community building and healing. Its most recent project has been brewing for almost a year and involves raising a Survivor’s Totem Pole. The process of raising the Survivor’s Totem Pole is building stronger connections between Coast Salish Nations, urban Aboriginal people, and other communities impacted by racism and exclusion.

In January 2014, ambassadors of the indigenous, Japanese, Chinese, South Asian, Filipino, and Latin American communities gathered to discuss the human-rights struggles that have taken place in Vancouver. Some of the groups and issues represented included Ending Violence Against Women and Children, Chinese Head Tax Reparation, Japanese Canadian Human Rights, Ending Homelessness, and Komagata Maru activists.

All communities were brought together to discuss their experiences of racism and exclusion in Canada, as well as celebrate each other’s resilience and courage to face human rights battles. The Survivor’s Totem Pole was the material outcome of the community discussion; the totem pole will symbolize resistance, persistence, and inclusion.

Totem poles commemorate stories of a people. In Canada, many monuments are often in reference to building a national consciousness or sense of citizenship. One of the ways  we can begin acting upon reconciliation and healing is to build monuments that represent the turbulence of citizenship, which include a long history of colonization, racism, and exclusion.

Struggles among First Nations and racialized people are stories we need to commemorate.

The Survivor’s Totem Pole is currently raising funds on Kickstarter to finish the project.

Skundaal (Bernie Williams), the only female apprentice to study under the great carver and artist Bill Reid, is the mastercarver that will complete the Survivor’s Totem Pole.

A 980-year-old, 30-foot red-cedar log has already been secured and is being stored for this community art project.

The Sacred Circle Society is seeking $15,000 to complete the project. They are fundraising until August 3, 2014. This is an “all or nothing” campaign, meaning that the project can only be completed if all of the funds have been raised.

You can donate here.

Posted on July 4, 2014, in Decolonization and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. The significance of this pole is beyond the grace of Canada,it comerates the survivors of the residential schools, the ones lost ,forgotten and ones left behind . It brings and sends the message we as survivors forgive ,love and still exist. It mostly defines the strength of the artist and carver. Survivor.

  2. love this…would love to participate

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: